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engineers newsletter

providing insights for todays


hvac system designer

turning air distribution upside down

Underfloor Air Distribution


from the editor
One of the fallouts of technology is
increasingly savvy consumers. Armed
with cellular phones, personal digital
assistants, and wireless laptops, were
accustomed to immediate gratification.
We also know that the seemingly
infinite possibilities of digital controls
mean that we need not content
ourselves with one-size-fits-all
products and services.
Ironically, its standard practice to
design comfort systems that create
thermally uniform indoor environments.
How long will it be before we can finetune our workspaces to satisfy
individual preferences? Not as long
as you might think. Low-pressure
underfloor air distribution represents
one way to give occupants greater
control over their immediate
environments.
Applied elsewhere in the world for
many years, underfloor air distribution
has made its way into a small but
growing number of major U.S. office
facilities. Will it become the next
serious alternative to conventional
overhead methods of air delivery?
Time will tell.

Underfloor air distribution, or UAD in


this publication, is of increasing interest
to those who own or design office
buildings. Some industry-watchers
predict that as many as 35 percent of
tomorrows office buildings will include
UAD systems.1 Others question its
practicality or readiness for widespread
application.

floor itself, because its from there that


the conditioned air is distributed.

Floor Choices
The architect or structural designer
can choose between a traditional flooron-slab; a slightly raised floor or a
channeled slab to accommodate wiring;
or an access floor, which is elevated
enough to house wiring plus other
utilities and equipment. See Figure 1.

A brief review of underfloor air


distribution will help us identify the
advantages and difficulties of applying
these systems. Lets start with the

With a traditional floor-on-slab, wiring


for power and communications and
plumbing for sprinklers are usually
located in a plenum above a suspended
ceiling. Holes are drilled through the

I. Krepchin, Underfloor air systems gain


foothold in North America, E Source
Report ER-01-1 (January 2001), Boulder,
CO: Financial Times Energy, Inc.

Figure 1. Types of Floor Systems

ceiling plenum

occupied space
breathing zone
12.0 ft
(3.6 m)

ceiling plenum

occupied space
breathing zone

12.5 ft
(3.8 m)

ceiling plenum

2.5 ft
(0.8 m)

occupied space
breathing zone

9.0 ft
(2.7 m)

13.5 ft
(4.0 m)

wiring access
floor plenum

ceiling plenum

Floor-on-Slab

2001 American Standard Inc. All rights reserved

ceiling plenum

Raised Floor
0.5 ft (0.2 m) floor plenum

ceiling plenum

Access Floor
1.5 ft (0.4 m) floor plenum

Volume 30, No. 4

concrete slab to accommodate wires


for the floor above.
Raised floors, which are elevated 3 to
6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) above the slab,
and channeled slabs provide electrical
and utility service on top of or within
the slab. Although these techniques
increase the initial cost of the floor,
they usually reduce wiring-related
expenses because slab drilling is
unnecessary.
With an access floorwhich is 12 to
18 inches (30 to 46 cm) or more above
the slaball wiring, utilities, and
equipment such as junction boxes,
outlet devices, and small terminal units
are sandwiched between the access
floor and the concrete slab below.
Like raised floors and channeled slabs,
an access floor is more expensive to
install and can be partially subsidized by
simplifying the installation of wiring and
utilities. The premium for installing an
access floor alone may be $5 USD /ft or
more, but the overall premium (which
varies widely2) may be only $3 USD /ft
when all of the initial costs for the
building are considered.
Why would a cost-conscious owner
or developer opt to pay the premium
for an access floor? To reduce the
expenses incurred by subsequent
changes in the office layout. Surveys
show that more than 40 percent of the
occupants in modern office buildings
relocate at least once each year.3
Annual occupant relocation, quantified
as churn rate, is increasingly

common; it is also expensive,


especially for high-tech businesses. In
many cases, reducing churn-related
expenses such as rewiring costs can
repay the additional investment of
installing a non-traditional floor.

Traditional overhead VAV distribution


(Figure 2) is used extensively in office
buildings. Supply ducts, VAV boxes,
and overhead diffusersusually in an
above-ceiling plenum formed by a
suspended ceilingdistribute cold,
50F-to-55F (10C-to-13C) supply air
to the spaces. This method of air
distribution produces relatively uniform
temperatures throughout the space
because it induces significant mixing of
space air with supply air. Return air
leaves the space at approximately room
temperature.
Displacement ventilation (Figure 3)
is commonly used in industrial spaces,
theaters, and other applications with
very high ceilings. Diffusers, usually
mounted low in sidewalls, release
slow-moving, 65F-to-72F (18C-to22C) air into the space; meanwhile,
heat sources in the space induce local
airflow from the floor toward the
ceiling. Along the way the air stratifies
into temperature layers, which become
progressively warmer from the floor to

International Facility Management


Association (www.ifma.org), Benchmarks
I, II, III (1991, 1994, 1997).

typically
12 ft
(3.6 m)
or more

stratification layer

65F (18C)
73F (23C)

the ceiling. Depending on the heat


sources, airflow rate, and ceiling height,
the air is 85F (29C) or more when it
enters the return openings near the
ceiling.
UAD systems represent a third choice,
partial displacement ventilation.
Floor-mounted diffusers release cool
63F-to-68F (17C-to-20C) air, which
induces local circulation and causes
partial mixing and relatively uniform
temperatures from the floor to a height
of 3 to 6 ft (1 to 2 m). See Figure 4 and
the inset below. Above that point, the
air temperatures stratify. At the return
openings near the ceiling, the air
temperature ranges from 80F to 85F
(27C to 29C), depending on heat
sources, airflow, and ceiling height.

Figure 2. Overhead VAV Distribution

VAV
terminal
55F
(13C)
12 ft
(3.6 m)

Requires high ceiling to limit


nose-to-toes stratification to
5F (3C)

Air Distribution Options

Coanda effect
for mixing

F. Bauman and T. Webster, Outlook for


underfloor air distribution, ASHRAE
Journal 43 no. 6 (June 2001): 1827.

85F (29C)

77F (25C)

ceiling plenum

Figure 3. Displacement Ventilation

uniform
space temperature,
75F (24C)

Partial Displacement Ventilation


This EN only discusses floor-mounted
diffusers; however, furniture-mounted
diffusers can also be used to implement
partial displacement ventilation. Such
systems, which are described as task/
ambient conditioning (TAC) systems,
deliver supply air directly to the occupant/
task area as well as to the ambient space.
TAC systems are similar to UAD systems
and deliver many of the same benefits.

wiring access

Trane Engineers Newsletter Vol. 30, No. 4

Figure 4. Partial Displacement


Ventilation (Underfloor Air Distribution)

ceiling plenum
82F (28C)
stratification layer
12 ft
(3.6 m)
or less

uniformly
75F (24C)

65F (18C)

diffuser

central air handler delivers primary air


to the floor plenum, pressurizing it to
approximately 0.05 to 0.10 in. wc
(12 to 25 Pa) above space pressure.
Passive floor-mounted diffusers, either
manually or automatically adjusted,
deliver the plenum air to the occupied
space.
The next section evaluates pressurizedplenum UAD systems serving spaces
with relatively constant loads. (For this
article, we chose to ignore underfloor
air distribution in spaces with widely
varying loadsperimeter zones and
conference rooms, for example
because of the complexity of these
applications.)

Approaches to UAD Design


Lets take a closer look at access floor
systems with underfloor air distribution.
Designers usually pick one of two
approaches to distribute air from an
access-floor system: neutral-plenum or
pressurized-plenum.
Note: Due to high initial and operational
costs, most designers avoid a third
possible approach that ducts primary air
to each floor-mounted diffuser.
In neutral-plenum designs, a central
air handler delivers conditioned primary
air to the floor plenum. From there, the
air is delivered to the space by either of
two types of floor-mounted diffusers:
passive diffusers that are connected
to fan-powered terminals or active
(fan-powered) diffusers. Although the
local fans increase the cost of installing
and operating the system, they may be
unavoidable if a leaky access floor or
building envelope makes it difficult to
pressurize the plenum.
When excessive leakage is not a
problem, a pressurized-plenum
design can be used. In this case, a

Potential Advantages
Some advocates claim that
pressurized-plenum UAD systems
offer several advantages over traditional
overhead VAV systems. Following is a
discussion of the benefits most
commonly associated with these
advantages.
Lower churn-related life-cycle costs.
Most of the savings related to office
reconfiguration result from the access
floor, which lowers rewiring costs
regardless of how the air is distributed.
Can underfloor air distribution trim
additional expense from churn? The
answer depends on the type of
relocation.
Cubicle rearrangements in UAD
applications usually require the
relocation of floor-mounted diffusers.
By contrast, rearranging cubicles in a
space with overhead VAV distribution
seldom (if ever) affects the placement
of ceiling diffusers. In terms of air
distribution alone, then, UAD may
actually increase the cost of cubiclewall churn.

providing insights for todays HVAC system designer

Rearranging the walls of private offices


is another matter. In this situation,
underfloor air distribution avoids the
expense of moving and rebalancing
overhead ducts and diffusers.
Reduced floor-to-floor height.
Often cited as an initial cost benefit of
underfloor air distribution, removing the
supply ducts, terminals, and diffusers
from the ceiling can reduce overall
plenum height, and may reduce slab-toslab and total building heightperhaps
by as much as 10 percent.2
Improved comfort. A combination
of cold plenum air, low-induction floormounted diffusers, and reduced airflow
can cause excessive (uncomfortable)
stratification. However, direct control of
supply airflow (a hallmark of most UAD
systems) increases the degree of
comfort that occupants perceive. 4
To assure that a UAD application
provides the promised improvements
in individual thermal comfort, the
design of the system must properly
account for all relevant parameters,
including vertical load distribution,
diffuser throw, and floor temperature.
Improved productivity. As implied
above, people express greater
satisfaction with thermal comfort when
they can control their immediate
environment. Adjustable, floor-mounted
diffusers contribute to occupant
satisfaction because they allow at least
some adjustment for individual
preferences. Reducing or eliminating
the distraction of thermal discomfort in
a space increases the productivity of
those who occupy it.

D.P. Wyon, Individual microclimate


control: required range, probable benefits,
and current feasibility, Proceedings of
Indoor Air 96, no. 1 (1996): 10671072.

Improved indoor air quality. Indoor


air quality (IAQ) relates to contaminant
concentrations in the breathing zone.
Some studies report lower breathingzone concentrations for UAD systems
than for overhead VAV systems.5 Heres
why

D. Faulkner, W.J. Fisk, and D.P. Sullivan,


Indoor airflow and pollutant removal in a
room with floor-based task ventilation:
results of additional experiments, Building
and Environment 30, no. 3 (1995): 323
332.

In overhead VAV applications, mixing


disperses contaminants throughout
the space. In UAD applications,
contaminants collect near the ceiling
outside of the breathing zone, so
occupants breathe cleaner air. Given
the higher air-change effectiveness
(E ac ) of UAD spaces, proper space
ventilation requires less outdoor airflow
at the diffusers. (See Air-Change
Effectiveness, Eac on page 5.)
Reduced outdoor airflow. If better
air-change effectiveness in UAD spaces
means that each diffuser needs less

Effect of Air Distribution on Ventilation Airflow


A simple example can help us determine
how underfloor air distribution (UAD)
affects the amount of outdoor air that
must be brought into the building for
proper ventilation, as compared to
overhead VAVdistribution. Assume that a
three-space system is served by a central
air handler. The system must comply with
the multiple-space equation (6-1) from
ASHRAE Standard 621999. Each space
needs 1,000 cfm of supply air at the design
condition, and the per-space outdoor air
requirements are 125 cfm, 150 cfm, and
175 cfm, respectively.
Determining how much outdoor air
must be brought into the system entails
finding the diffuser (not breathing-zone)
ventilation fraction, z = Vo /(Eac Vs ), for
each space, and then calculating the
critical-space ventilation fraction
(Z = largest z) as well as the average
ventilation fraction, X = Vo /Vs , for the
system.
Note: The air-change effectiveness of
the space does not affect the average
ventilation fraction for the system, which
is based on breathing-zone needs.

Solving for system ventilation efficiency


(E = 1 + X Z) and total outdoor airflow,
Vot = Vo /(1 + X Z), we find that the

overhead VAV system requires 466 cfm


while the UAD system requires only
454 cfmabout 2.6 percent less outdoor
air than the VAV system.
System-Level
Characteristics

VAV

UAD

Average breathing-zone
ventilation requirement, X

0.150

0.150

Critical-space ventilation
fraction, Z

0.184

0.159

Ventilation efficiency, E

0.966

0.991

Total outdoor airflow, Vot

466 cfm 454 cfm

Its interesting to note that although


underfloor air distribution improves the
air-change effectiveness in each space by
16 percent (in this example), the system
ventilation efficiency and total outdoor
airflow required at the outdoor air intake
only drop by 2.6 percent. The slight
reduction of system-level outdoor airflow
makes sense when we remember that any
contaminants that escape the breathing
zone recirculate at the air handler.

Per-Space Ventilation Characteristics for Example Three-Space System


Supply
Airflow Vs ,
cfm

Outdoor
Airflow Vo ,
cfm

Air-Change Effectiveness,
Eac

Ventilation Fraction, z

VAV

UAD

VAV

UAD

Space 1

1,000

125

0.95

1.10

0.132

0.114

Space 2

1,000

150

0.95

1.10

0.158

0.136

Space 3

1,000

175

0.95

1.10

0.184

0.159

3,000

450

Totals

outdoor air for ventilation, then it


follows that the building ventilation
system can condition less outdoor air
and, therefore, will require less heating
and cooling capacity. How much less?
That depends. As the example in
Effect of Air Distribution on Ventilation
Airflow demonstrates, when airchange effectiveness increases from
0.95 (VAV) to 1.10 (UAD), system
ventilation efficiency, E, at design
conditions also improvesfrom 0.966
(VAV) to 0.991 (UAD), in this case.
Although the UAD system reduced
both outdoor airflow and, therefore, the
installed capacity required at the plant,
the reductions are significantly less
than one might expect. In multiplespace mixed-air applications, improving
the air-change effectiveness in the
space does not yield an equal
improvement in system ventilation
efficiency (or airflow reduction) at the
outdoor air intake.
Note: System ventilation efficiency
improves for UAD at design conditions,
which can reduce the installed capacity
of the heating/cooling plant. For
overhead VAV distribution, system
ventilation efficiency improves at part
load, which can reduce the required
operating capacity if the system is
equipped with proper ventilation-reset
controls.
Less fan horsepower. If we assume
that UAD and overhead VAV systems
require the same supply airflow at
design conditions (see Airflow on
page 5), then the absence of supply
ducts, terminals, and runouts in a
pressurized-plenum UAD system
reduces the external static pressure on
the supply fan. Less external static
pressure results in the selection of a
smaller motor (lower initial cost)but
does it also mean that UAD requires
less horsepower (costs less to operate)
than overhead VAV distribution?

Trane Engineers Newsletter Vol. 30, No. 4

Air-Change Effectiveness, Eac


The comparatively higher air-change
effectiveness of a space that is served by
UAD rather than an overhead VAV system
reduces the amount of outdoor air that
must be brought into the building.
Consider the example below.
A space requires 150 cfm (75 L/s) of
outdoor air within the breathing zone. If
we assume an air-change effectiveness of
0.95 for overhead VAV distribution, then
150/0.95 = 158 cfm (75/0.95 = 79 L/s) of
outdoor air must reach the diffusers. With
underfloor air distribution and an airchange effectiveness of 1.10, the same
space requires only 150/1.10 = 136 cfm
(75/1.10 = 68 L/s) of outdoor air at the
diffusers.
Although 14 percent less outdoor air is
needed at UAD diffusers than at overhead
VAV diffusers, this savings does not pass
entirely to the outdoor air intake. To find
out why, see Effect of Air Distribution on
Ventilation Airflow on page 4.

Many UAD systems supply a relatively


constant volume of airflow to both
interior and perimeter zones. According
to the fan laws, a 50-percent reduction
in external static pressure (typical of
UAD) yields the same brakehorsepower effect as a 30-percent
reduction in airflow. VAV systems that
serve both types of zones often
operate for many hours at less than
70-percent of design airflow. Which
system actually uses less fan energy?
Learning the answer requires a careful,
case-by-case analysis of part-load
operation.
Improved chiller efficiency. In arid
climates, 65F DB (18C) supply air
may be dry enough during most hours
of operation to avoid elevating the
relative humidity in the space. If so,
then raising the chilled water
temperature from 45F (7C) to 55F
(13C), for example, will improve the
chillers Coefficient of Performance
or COP.

For most climates, however, saturated


65F DB (18C) supply air would
unacceptably raise the relative humidity
in the space. Therefore, when a cold
coil provides dehumidification, the
chilled water in most climates must be
cold enough to produce a supply-air
dew point of 58F to 60F (14C to
15C), greatly reducing the anticipated
COP improvement.
In other words, the warmer supply air
temperatures of UAD systems can
improve the operating efficiency of
chillers applied in dry climates.
However, this advantage diminishes
significantly in climates that routinely
require mixed-air dehumidification (that
is, cold water temperatures) at the
cooling coil.
Note: Using a separate unit for
dehumidification (an active desiccant
dehumidifier, for example) allows the
chilled water temperature to rise along
with the chiller COPbut perhaps at
the expense of overall system
efficiency. Again, careful analysis is
needed to assess the effects of such
a design.
Reduced electrical demand. In UAD
applications, the floor slab forms part of
the supply duct for one floor and part of
the return duct for the floor below.
Therefore, the thermal mass of the
floor slab can store heat (cooling load)
during daytime hours and release it at
night; see Thermal Storage on
page 6.
With proper controls and sufficient slab
mass, lower daytime cooling peaks
may permit smaller cooling equipment
andwhen coupled with fanhorsepower savingsmay reduce
daytime electrical demand peaks and
charges. Unfortunately, without
dependable models to predict the
slabs thermal performance or a wealth
of design experience, it is unlikely that

providing insights for todays HVAC system designer

designers will risk reducing the


installed capacity of the cooling plant.
More hours of economizer cooling.
When outdoor air enthalpy is less than
return air enthalpy, less energy is
required to mechanically cool outdoor
air than mixed air. Return air is warmer
in UAD systems than in VAV systems
perhaps 80F (27C) versus 77F
(25C) at economizer conditions.
Therefore, the changeover from
mechanical cooling with minimum
outdoor air to mechanical cooling
with maximum outdoor air occurs at
warmer outdoor conditions, reducing
the cooling coil load and increasing
economizer hours slightly during warm
weather.
UAD systems also supply warmer air
than VAV systemsperhaps 65F
(18C) versus 55F (13C). So, the
changeover from mechanical cooling
with maximum outdoor air to
modulated economizer cooling
occurs at a warmer outdoor
temperature, reducing the hours of
mechanical cooling operation during
cool weather.

Airflow
Vertical distribution of the cooling loads
within the occupied space determines
whether the required airflow for UAD
systems is more or less than for overhead
VAV distribution. Lacking better loadmodeling tools, most designers assume
that both types of systems require the
same supply airflow at the design cooling
condition. In effect, theyre assuming that
only 50 percent of the cooling load enters
the breathing zone. Therefore, a
50-percent reduction of the supply-tospace temperature difference (typically
from 20F to 10F) can be tolerated
without changing the supply airflow.
After researchers establish comfortable
stratification limits and devise tools to aid
air-distribution design, some UAD systems
may actually be found to require less
supply airflow than overhead
alternatives.

Finally, because UAD systems usually


deliver roughly constant airflow to
interior spaces, the change from
modulated economizer cooling to
heating with minimum outdoor air
may occur at a warmer or cooler
outdoor temperature (depending on the
building cooling load) than in VAV
systems. In other words, heating hours
may either increase or decrease during
cold weather. Why? Interior zones
usually do not require heating during
occupied hours. Therefore, while
heating with minimum outdoor air,
the heating coil warms the mixed air to
the current cooling setpoint.
Because UAD systems usually require
warmer supply air, they may actually
use more heating energy for interior
spaces than VAV systemseven if the
hours of heating operation decrease.

Stated simply, a UAD system can


decrease the cooling coil load during
warm weather and decrease the hours
of mechanical cooling operation during
cool weather (especially in dry
climates). During cold weather,
however, underfloor air distribution may
increase heating energy use and/or
hours of heating operation, depending
on building loads.
Ultimately, local weather and load
conditions, together with system
control schemes, will determine how
much extra mechanical cooling energy
UAD saves and how much extra (if any)
heating energy it adds. Once again,
careful analysis is needed on a job-byjob basis to quantify the operating cost
savings.

Thermal Storage
Although sometimes described as a
potential cool-storage device, heatstorage device may be a more apt
descriptor for the floor slab. Thats because
the average temperature of the slab rises
during the day as it absorbs and stores
heat from internal cooling loads.
Operating a UAD system at night cools the
slab by allowing it to reject the stored
heat. This practice requires careful
consideration, however. Cooling the slab
below the occupied temperature may
necessitate morning warm-up, which can
be difficult from under the floor; it can also
greatly diminish thermal storage benefits.
Furthermore, if the slab mass reaches
thermal equilibrium while the space is
occupied (that is, if the slab stops
absorbing heat at 2 p.m., for example),
then the cooling load shift is not sufficient
to allow a reduction of the installed
capacity of the cooling plant.

Growing Pains
Economizer Considerations
Its important to remember that
economizer cooling removes only the
sensible cooling load in the space. In nondry (most) climates, the latent load must
be removed, tooeven when the outdoor
air temperature drops below the supplyair target.
If system controls sense and directly
limit relative humidity in the occupied
space, then underfloor air distribution
requires approximately the same cooling
capacity as overhead VAV distribution.
Furthermore, UAD may also require more
reheat energy to avoid overcooling during
dehumidification.
One final caveat: If your system design
uses a return-air bypass configuration to
provide indirect dehumidification without
sensing (and limiting) relative humidity,
then return air will not be available for
reheat during mechanical cooling with
maximum outdoor air. (Dehumidification
in constant-volume systems was discussed
in a previous Engineers Newsletter, volume
294. You can find it in our online archive
of newsletters in the commercial section
of www.trane.com.)

Naturally, the relative newness of


underfloor air distribution presents
certain difficulties for owners and
designers who wish to apply it
successfully.
Design tools. Neither the guidelines
for traditional air-distribution systems
nor existing computer-aided design
tools address partially stratified spaces.
Whats missing?

A good roomstratification model


to analyze the effects of supply
airflow, temperature, diffuser
performance, and ceiling height

A good load-prediction tool to


study the vertical distribution of
cooling and heating loads within the
space and to determine the required
supply airflow

A systemperformance model
(one that includes various plenum
configurations, slab dynamics, and
flexible control schemes) to analyze
and compare system economics

Perimeter spaces. UAD systems can


readily accommodate thermally stable
interior spaces, but spaces with widely
variable loads (conference rooms and
perimeter spaces, for example) pose a
significant design challenge. Solutions
ranging from series fan-powered VAV to
changeover-bypass VAV to variablespeed fancoils have been used with
varying degrees of success. The best
solution may be something else
altogether and, in any case, will depend
upon architectural considerations (for
example, window/wall construction and
access to vertical riser shafts).
Central systems. Should each floor
have one or more air handlers, or
should a central air handler provide
conditioned air to a shaft with takeoff
dampers on each floor? Perhaps the
central air handler should provide
100-percent outdoor air to fan-powered
mixing boxes on each floor. If so,
should the central unit merely cool the
air, or should it also dehumidify the air

Trane Engineers Newsletter Vol. 30, No. 4

to mitigate the interior latent load?


These questions may be easy to
answer for some applications and
impossible for others. One thing is
certain: Evaluating the alternatives
requires good performance models.
Controls. Minimizing temperature
swings at head level while
controlling nose-to-toes temperature
stratification is critical for thermal
comfort. The ability to model a stratified
space would let designers compare the
effects of constant- versus variabletemperature supply air, constant versus
variable supply airflow, neutral versus
pressurized plenums, and so on.
Economizer changeover control and
supply-air-temperature reset must be
coordinated to maximize economizer
hours without causing high levels of
relative humidity in the space or
requiring excessive reheat. The thermal
mass in UAD applications may
significantly alter the characteristics
and requirements for night setback and
morning warm-up operation. Operable
windows, which are increasingly
popular, create another design
perplexity: defining a control strategy
that effectively accommodates hybrid
(mechanical plus passive) ventilation
systems. Control challenges abound.
Installed cost. Does a building with
a UAD system cost more or less than
a building with a conventional air
distribution system? Although most
designers believe that buildings with
UAD systems demand a first-cost
premium, study results to date are
inconclusive. Obtaining true cost
comparisons is difficult because many

designers, installers, and operators


raise their estimates to cover
unforeseen contingencies associated
with the unfamiliar UAD technology.
Will operating cost savings, including
the cost of churn, provide rapid
payback for any initial premium? A fair
comparison of life-cycle costs requires
an economic analysis tool that
accurately models both UAD and
conventional HVAC systems and their
controls.
Retrofit limitations. Existing buildings
account for more than half of HVAC
equipment sales. Although possible, its
not easy to install an access floor and
UAD system in an existing building.
Other uncertainties
Standards and codes assume wellmixed spaces and ceiling plenums.
UAD shifts the traditional system
paradigm for code authorities as well
as for designers. Aspects of
underfloor air distribution may
conflict with existing code
requirements.

Except for passive floor-mounted


diffusers, manufacturers offer only a
limited selection of UAD equipment
and systems.

Will spilled coffee and dirt in


the floor plenum affect indoor air
quality?

Will the occupants of buildings with


access floors and UAD systems
remain satisfied after five or ten
years of operation?

Time and attention may eventually


resolve these growing pains, and
perhaps significantly alter our existing
paradigms for air distribution. Once
these growing pains are
understoodand after designs for
UAD systems are proven,
implemented, commissioned, and
properly operatedwe may find that
UAD systems are a viable and practical
alternative for specific applications. We
may also find that many UAD
advantages result in real benefits for
building owners and occupants.

UAD Research Initiatives

Closing Thoughts

At the University of California in


Berkeley, the Center for the Built
Environment (CBE) conducts research
related to underfloor air distribution for
industry partners and several government
departments, as well as for the American
Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and AirConditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE).
With ASHRAE sponsorship, the CBE is
also developing the ASHRAE Design
Guide for Task/Ambient Conditioning and
Underfloor Air Distribution Systems
(1064-RP). For more details about UAD
technology and the CBEs research
programs, visit www.cbe.berkeley.edu/
underfloorair/.

Should you raise the floor merely


to accommodate underfloor air
distribution?

ASHRAE and the Air-Conditioning and


Refrigeration Technology Institute (ARTI)
also sponsor UAD research by CarnegieMellon University in Pittsburgh. The
universitys ongoing demonstration project
serves as a test-bed for adaptations of
underfloor air distribution.

providing insights for todays HVAC system designer

Probably not. It is seldom economical


to spend many first-cost dollars on an
access floor to save only a few firstcost or operating-cost dollars on the air
distribution system.
Why use underfloor rather than
overhead air distribution in an office?

If the plan includes an access floor


to reduce the cost of churn, UAD
systems can help subsidize the cost
added by the flooring. They typically
require less ductwork and certainly
less above-ceiling height than
overhead systems. This trait often

avoids the increase in slab-to-slab


height that might otherwise result
from raising the floor.

In some climates, UAD systems


may significantly reduce operating
costs.

Occupant-controlled airflow
seems to improve both comfort and
productivity.

Architectural constraints imposed


by some building designs may
necessitate underfloor air
distribution.

What lies ahead? With the help of


university researchers, the HVAC
industry is expanding its knowledge of
underfloor air distribution through

studies and through operating


experience in both demonstration
projects and actual buildings. (See
UAD Research Initiatives on page 7.)
From these initiatives, we can expect
to resolve many of the uncertainties
identified earlier in this articleand to
benefit from the development of
design guidelines and tools that will
help us use underfloor air distribution to
best advantage.
By Dennis Stanke, staff applications
engineer, and Brenda Bradley,
information designer, Trane.

You can find this and other issues


of the Engineers Newsletter in the
commercial section of www.trane.com.
To comment, send a note to Trane,
Engineers Newsletter Editor, 3600
Pammel Creek Road, La Crosse, WI
54601-7599, or e-mail us at
comfort@trane.com.

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Trane believes the facts and suggestions presented here to be accurate. However,
final design and application decisions are your responsibility. Trane disclaims
any responsibility for actions taken on the material presented.
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